23 December 2014

Onesta Confections: Popcorn, Pastries, and Pretty Packages

Christmas is a big deal in the Irani household. The tree comes out a week in advance, with mom and I decorating it with the same trinkets that I've been collecting as a little girl. I still get presents under my tree just as I did as a child, with the exception that I know it's not Santa who is leaving them behind. And then of course, there's the rum cake and marzipan that our neighbors and friends so generously send across. Growing up in Bandra has made me a lover of Christmas and all the festivities that come alongside. What are your Christmas and New Year plans?

Christmas came home early this year, when I walked home post work one day to a large hamper from Onesta Confections sitting pretty under my tree.  Onesta which means 'honesty' in Italian, is the baby and brainchild of Neha Chaudhary. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York, and gaining further experience working at the J.W.Mariott, Mumbai; Neha started her own brand of desserts retailing out of Juhu.

I scouted through their entire website (www.onesta.in) and was thrilled to see a variety of cakes which looked really pretty on the menu. I then proceeded to wipe the drool off my keyboard. There's also the standard cupcakes here. And some interesting looking chocolates which would make a lovely gift. What caught my eye was the exhaustive range of popcorn....yes, popcorn! Popcorn in a large variety of flavors which I think is extremely fun and unusual.

The packaging is what first caught my eye. In a bright and pretty aqua color offset with bows, the boxes are ideal to gift someone. I opened my first box to find snuggled inside a Baked Cheesecake with Whipped Cream frosting. All three layers  - the topmost whipped cream, the dense cream cheese center and the crumbly biscuit base - fit in a single bite and is a wonderful contrast of textures. I've eaten better cheesecakes, but the Onesta one is pretty good too!

Baked Cheesecake with Whipped Cream Frosting
Another pleasant surprise was the Mini Chocolate Box filled with a dozen different chocolate flavors. I nibbled on the unusual Peanut Toffee, Salted Caramel, and Hazelnut Cappuccino flavors all of which I loved. (I'm a chocolate lover. I'll love anything chocolate.) The box also has the basic Vanilla, Cashew, Almond and other assorted flavors, and I think it makes for a lovely gift priced at Rs. 390/- for twelve variants.

Chocolate Box!
What I found really interesting in the Onesta menu was the gourmet popcorn. It instantly took me back in time to 'Hoggers Park', this popcorn store in Bandra which sold the yummiest popcorn. As a kid, we'd collect our pocket money and visit the store to have our stomachs filled with popcorn. The availability of this versatile and healthy snack is now limited to movie theaters and a few stand alone stores, none of which do popcorn as well as Onesta does. 

The Original Popcorn which was lightly salted came in a large tin, and was absolutely delicious. The kernels were perfectly popped and crunchy. The other varieties include Cheese, Caramel, Indian masala, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Butter and Kettle Corn. My favorites were the spicy Masala, rich Chocolate and the low fat, lightly sweetened Kettle Corn. With barely any cinnamon spice to speak of, the cinnamon flavor was my least favorite.

Natural Popcorn - Big Tin
(Clockwise): Chocolate, Butter, Masala,
Kettle Corn, Cinnamon, Cheese, Caramel

What I enjoyed in the popcorn types was how evenly coated all the kernels were. The consistency and richness in the flavors came across strikingly. The butter leaves your hands greasy, and the cheese leaves your fingers with a cheddar smell. No uncooked or hard kernels, and nothing that will get stuck in your teeth. This is gourmet popcorn! As a concept, I think this will be a hit at house parties, or even as a snack to be shelved at home. The popcorn is indeed delicious, and it hasn't got stale yet after almost a week because of the packaging which is a major plus point. I'd love to see some more interesting savory flavors such as jalapeno, or pizza, or even regular tomato on the menu some day. Priced between Rs. 110-200 for a small tin, depending on the flavor, a lot of people may find it on the pricier side. But having eaten the popcorn, I'd say it's worth it.

What an awesome start to the festive season I had shoving my mouth with popcorn and candy. Hope yours is just as fun and food-filled. Happy Holidays!

Website: www.onesta.in
Twitter/Instagram: @onestaindia
Facebook page here

18 December 2014

Pune Diaries - Something Old and Something New

I've lost track of the number of times I've traveled to Pune for work and play, conferences and recreation. Ever since my maternal grandparents moved to Pune over a decade ago, a lot of weekends were spent there with family which included movies, shopping and most importantly stuffing our faces with food so that we'd come back five kilos heavier. Anything lesser, and my grandmother would take it as a personal insult. I was back after almost a year, and this time I was looking forward to trying out my old favorite eating places again. And trying out the newly recommended and read about foodie joints. So in absolute random order, here is my Pune food diary - including the old and the new. (Keeping it short and sweet here. Listing out only my absolute favorites from the trip, along with a few pictures. I could do an elaborate review also, but then that would result in me having to write a book. Any publishers interested? Lol.)

Something Old:

1. Dorabjee and Sons:
Everytime someone asks me for Parsi food recommendations in Mumbai, I tell them to take a bus to Pune and eat at Dorabjee's. My visit this time around, was consistent with all previous times; hearty food, memories, tradition, and the same waiter serving me who has been working at Dorabjee's since 30 years! This institute of a restaurant, established in 1878 is situated on a picturesque street that screams out - Bawa! This place proves that good food comes first in the restaurant business, everything else later. Go on a Sunday and try out their mutton Dhansak (Rs. 250/-) and Patraa fish (Rs. 200/-) which is unavailable on other days. Round it up with an awesomely caramelized Lagan nu Custard (Rs. 50/-) which transported me back to a Parsi wedding. Jamva Chalo Ji! 

Patra Fish
Lagan nu Custard

Mutton Dhansak
2. The 'Mastani': A Mastani is local to Pune with many stalls scattered across the city, and I doubt you find it anywhere else. It is a combination of a super thick shake, and an ice-cream both of the same flavor. My first tryst with the Mastani was when I was a child, I remember being huddled up in the back seat of a car with my cousins on a dark, cold night savouring my Mastani. Cut to, many years later, the Mastani tasted the same. I absolutely love the Mango flavour which at 50 bucks for a small glass fills your stomach, yet greedily makes you want more. I'm Deewani for this Mastani. (I apologize for this shitty pun, but I just had to!)

Mango Mastani
3. Marz-O-Rin: Everyone seems to call this place, the 'Candies' of Pune and I do see some resemblance between the two. Shitty self service queues that go on forever, and mad scrambles for a good seat, but delicious VFM snacks that make up for everything. The sandwiches, puffs, rolls, pastries, cakes, burgers, sundaes, juices, and more are so so reasonably priced. Yet so so delicious. The 30 rupees chutney sandwiches tasted exactly the same as they do on every visit of mine.

Chicken Burger with Relish, Chutney Sandwich,
Cool Blue, Lemmon Lassi
(A meal under 200 bucks)
Pineapple Cream Pastry
4. Kayani Bakery: Pune is filled with bakeries but Kayani stands above all the others. Whoever comes to Pune comes with 'Shrewsbury biscuit from Kayani' on their shopping list. Everyone braves the serpentine queues, military rules, and erratic timings to get their share of biscuits and cakes. I'm partial to their Mawa cakes the size of an adult fist, that I eat for breakfast along with 'Choi' or milk. Continued that tradition this time around too. 

Something New:

1. Burger King: This place is not new in any means, but new for me as I visited it the first time inspite of all my trips to Pune. Originally called Burger King, and later re-christened to Burger, after the fast food chain took legal action against them. The owner is clearly a crazy Beatles fan, bordering on OCD, with so many posters all over the place. Burgers are the king here - but these are old school burgers with large patties, soft bun bread, and an overdose of mayo and tomato ketchup. We were told to wait atleast 30-40 minutes for our order, or else buzz off, which was an alien concept for me. Aren't burgers fast food after all? But it was well worth the wait. Our King Beef burger (Rs. 80/-) was bigger than my face and eating one will ensure you'll be too full to eat your next meal. The Chicken Hot Dog (Rs. 60/-) was macabre looking and completely avoidable. We loved the Chicken mix surprise (Rs 80/-) which came with roast chicken, chicken sausage, chicken salami and left us pleasantly surprised. If you ever visit Pune, don't be an idiot like I was all this time and leave without visiting Burger King

King Burger with a view to match 
Beatles OCD
Rules for Eating at my Restaurant
Gruesome looking Chicken Hot Dog
2. GoodLuck Cafe: Each visit I ensure going to a new Irani cafe which the city is generously blessed with. After a lot of recommendations from Twitter folk, I trek upto GoodLuck Chowk where this cafe sits, for some good ol' sweet, Irani Chai and generously buttered Brun Maska (Rs. 40/-). Our Omelette Pav (Rs. 60/-) and Bhurji pav (Rs. 50/-) were yummy and the soft bread overpowers even the egg here. The breads were good enough, just to be eaten plain. Don't ever return from Pune without a visit to an Irani cafe, or else face the wrath of this Irani!

Omelette Pav
Brun Maska - Chai
Bhurji Pav
Caramel Custard
3. Dario's: This beautiful restaurant situated in the heart of Koregaon Park has the most romantic outdoor seating, especially with Pune winters adding to the charm. I almost did an about turn when I realised it was pure vegetarian, but I'm glad I didn't. I had an amazing Italian meal paired with delicious wine under a canopy of stars, and I didn't miss the meat one bit. Our Tortellini Zarba (Rs. 500/-) was the best tortellini I've ever eaten. The stuffing of mushroom and cheese was absolutely delectable, in a cheese sauce that was so rich. Our 'White pizza' (Rs. 460/-) with potatoes, onions, cheese, sun dried tomato, proved that you don't need tomato sauce as a base to make a really good pizza.

White Pizza

Tortellini Zarba
4. Independence Brewing Company: You don't visit Pune and not visit one of Pune's famous breweries. This time I went to Independance Brewing Company, and sampled all their in-house beer brews. Whenever you're there try something called a 'Beer Flight' which for a measly 60 bucks enables you to try 100 ml. samples of all six of their beers which is an absolute steal and great way to try newer brews. My favorite of the lot was the milder, citrus-ey Belgian Wit Beer. (Rs. 240/- for 500 ml.) With respect to breweries, Pune kicks Mumbai in the butt!

With that I wrap up my Pune Diaries. This in no way is a comprehensive list, and only tops off a few of the places I visited this time. There's a limit to how many meals one can eat in a day, unfortunately. Sigh! The next time I go back, I'll add on to my list. Suggestions are always welcome. And I'll surely be back to Pune soon. After all, I leave a tiny piece of my heart in the city everytime I visit.

(The author dined anonymously and paid for her own meals.)

11 December 2014

Beyond the Boveda - New Menu and Board Game Night

(Disclaimer: This is an all-vegetarian food review. Proceed reading only after you have resuscitated yourself from the shock.)

Blogging about food is no easy task! It comes with clogged arteries, bloated tummies, and love handles. Eating out can take an immense toll on your body, which results in not being able to fit into your favorite pair of Forever 21 skinnies any more. Sigh! I've been thinking about how I can balance my love for food blogging and still being fit, and I've come up with a three point program which includes making healthier choices while ordering, controlling portion size, and working out whenever I can. Your suggestions are  also welcome.

Pardon my above rant. I just had to put my decision out here on paper, and have you guys support moi. Last week was a fun week. And a part of that week included visiting Andheri's fun bar Boveda on two occasions. Boveda is situated on Lokhandwala's 'Bar Road', where a line of bars and restaurants are located, each having a similar layout and style. 

My first tryst with Boveda happened on Saturday for the Bombay Bar Hoppers Annual Party organised by a dear friend Bhavin. (You may know him as @onechilledbeer. You may also check out www.bombaybarhoppers.in for more fun events.) I was only there for an hour but had such a fun time, that I said I would return soon. I sipped on my Espresso Martini (Rs. 495/-) while sitting alone at the bar, and I enjoyed my drink and the vibe of the place. 

Call it karma, or destiny, or me just being dramatic, but I was back to Boveda on Tuesday night. This time to review their new menu on behalf of MumbaiFoodLovers. We were welcomed by the same outside, al fresco section with dim lights, which would be a good seating option in this weather. The inside section is a cross between grunge and classy with bare brick walls (which is being completely overdone nowadays) and plush leather armchairs. There's also a  beautifully done up bar with dim lights and comfortable bar stools that do not hurt your ass. 

Bar Bar Dekho
Tuesday is games night at Boveda. And not just any games...drinking games! We were handed over a card with game instructions and rules even before we were given the menu. There are games scattered throughout the place, and the bar was filled with patrons - both young and old - playing games. But quit playing games with my heart, okay? We settled down with our drinks for the night over an awesome game of Jenga.

Boveda's new cocktail menu is extensive and comes with their own cocktail pattern code which depicts the spirits that go into your drink, and in what ratio. Super interesting! Also they do molecular cocktails (well, who doesn't?) which I was super keen to try out. My Cheesecake Martini (Rs. 550/-) contains Absolut vanilla, kahlua, amaretto and cheesecake mix, and is just as yum as it sounds. Only try it if you're a fan of everything sugary, including your alcohol. I loved this dessert drink, and would go back for a second.

Cheesecake Martini
The molecular cocktails are priced similar to the regular cocktails, which I thought was a really good deal. We tried the Smoke Screen (Rs. 550/-) that came with Jim Beam White, vermouth, cranberry, orange bitters, and orange smoke. By the time the cocktail arrived at our table and I was done clicking a gazillion pictures of the drink, the smoke vanished. Eliminate the smoke factor, and you're left with a regular cocktail. I would have loved for the gimmick-y smoke element to have lasted longer. I spoke to my server about this and suggested if the addition of liquid nitrogen that adds the smoke effect could have been done on the table, or they could atleast call the customer to the bar to enjoy the visuals. I was happy to see them employ my suggestion a few minutes later. The couple on the table next to us got their drinks mixed on the table, and they went shutter happy!

Smoke Screen

The arrival of our appetizers kept our Jenga game on hold. The menu ranges from Spanish, to American, to pizzas, all of which is finger food you'd like to eat at a bar. Our Stuffed Mushrooms (Rs. 275/-) were button mushrooms that came stuffed with paprika cheese. The mushrooms could have been more cheesier, but the onion olive mayo that came alongside added a lot of flavour.

Stuffed Mushrooms
The Cottage Cheese in Firecracker Sauce (Rs. 300/-), which was a slightly modified barbeque sauce, was delicious. But something you would find replicated in different versions at most restaurants. Nothing unusual to write home about. I enjoyed the Patatas Bravas (Rs. 250/-) which were simple crisped potatoes topped with tomato paste and cheese. Simple, yet filling. 

Patatas Bravas
(Clockwise): Patatas Bravas, Cottage Cheese in Firecracker Sauce,
Stuffed Mushrooms
Cottage Cheese in Firecracker Sauce
I decided to get the Madras Curry Rice (Rs. 325/-) that sticks out like a sore thumb on an otherwise purely International menu. The vegetarian version was completely avoidable. My palate craved the taste of fish in this curry, as it would've elevated the curry several notches higher. 

Veg Madras Curry Rice
They do interesting half-and-half 11 inch pizzas on request which is a fun way to try out a greater variety of pizzas. The Smoked Cheese and Spinach (Rs. 400/-) which I personally enjoyed came with a tangy tomato base topped with sauteed spinach and loads of cheese. The crust is perfectly thin - not a papad, neither a dough ball - and didn't get chewy once it cooled down. It has a lot of spinach on it, so don't get it if you don't like your greens. I enjoyed it. Popeye would have loved it too.

The Feast (Rs. 375/-) comes with typical vegetarian pizza ingredients; onions, bell peppers, olives, mushrooms, cottage cheese, zucchini. The base was a pesto which felt far too dry compared to the tomato base I preferred earlier.

(Top to Bottom): The Smoked Cheese and Spinach,
The Feast
The Cheesecake Martini should have been my quota of dessert for the night, but I went ahead and ordered another cheesecake. The Tiramisu Cheesecake (Rs. 225/-) comes with cream cheese and a mild after taste of kahlua on a cookie base. The cheesecake came semi-frozen to us. Had it been served at the right temperature, it would have done absolute justice to the description. 

Tiramisu Cheesecake
Right at the entrance, as we were leaving I spotted a huge signage showing the entire Boveda calender for the month of December. Everything including their game nights, karaoke nights, happy hours, performance nights, and gigs was up on that calender. I've already made a mental note of the nights I'm returning back. And so should you.

Boveda is an absolutely fun space with fun events and on-goings. Go there for their interesting cocktails, and well priced molecular drinks. Go there for their fun events, game nights, and karaoke. Go there for their interesting appetizers, pizzas and finger food. Do not go there for a meal, it's just not the place for that. I enjoyed both my visits there, and yes, I'll be back!

Contact: Boveda, G04, Morya Landmark One, Off New Link Road, Near Infiniti Mall, Andheri (W).
Phone: 022 67080858

(The author represented MumbaiFoodLovers for the review, and dined there on invitation.)

6 December 2014

Tea Break: The XVII Tea Room, Bandra

Tea rooms are the new coffee shops. It is the latest trend in the city, that aims at elevating tea drinking, from the cutting chai that one has at local stalls to an elaborate, finer affair. Newer tea rooms have been setting up shop all over the city and older ones revamping themselves. The latest tea room to join the Bandra bandwagon is The XVII Tea Room situated on Turner Road. A few friends and I decided to skip our regular evening coffee routine, and meet up over tea instead. Our experience was so lovely, I decided to share it with you'll. Stick out your pinkie finger, take a sip, and read on.

The rectangular space is done up with purple, velvet upholstered chairs and carpets to match. Opulent chandeliers hang from the ceiling and give company to a hand painted Alice in Wonderland-ish mural complete with teapots, cats, and a girl on a swing. There's even an adorable pet cat napping at the entrance, who greets you with a meow. Très adorable! 

The XVII Tea Room was empty the evening we visited, with only the aforementioned girl on the swing to give us company. The menu is very well priced, and covers a variety of brewed teas, flavoured teas, traditional desi chais and iced teas. They also do hot and cold coffee, but then again, why come here to have that? Their snack menu is all vegetarian...gasp! But their enticing Dutch pancake and dessert menu makes up for that loss.

My Strawberry Basil Tea (Rs. 120/-) was a lovely strawberry flavoured tea which was not cloyingly sweet, and had a lingering aftertaste of basil. The Spicy Guava Tea (Rs.120/-) was a lovely combination of guava and desi spices - perfect for when you're under the weather. Both teas were well brewed and came with delicious biscotti. My tea was slightly lukewarm instead of piping hot, as I prefer it to be. But they do interesting signature tea combinations, which are absolutely worth a try in addition to the regular Assam, Nilgiri, Sancha, white, and green teas. Our white tea (Rs. 120/-) was a light, refreshing, mildly infused tea.

Strawberry Basil Tea and Spicy Guava Tea

White Tea
The food menu albeit being limited, does a few interesting items. The Dutch Pancakes or poffertjes are smaller miniature pancakes, that resembles mini idlis. Ours came floating in maple syrup, and were delicious and worth the hundred bucks we spent on it. I'm going back to try their salted peanut butter topping which was unavailable the evening we visited. 

Dutch Pancakes with Maple Syrup

The Mediterranean Sandwich (Rs. 180/- for a full portion) had tomatoes, basil leaves, and olives smothered with hummus and mozzarella. The combination of the hummus and mozzarella together made it a tad bit salty, which we had to mask by adding ketchup. The Smoked Chilli Cheese Toast (Rs. 150/- for a full portion of four decently sized pieces) was delicious, with stringy cheese, jalapenos, olives, and chilli. So much better than the versions of this snack we eat at regular coffee shops.

Smoked Chilli Cheese Toast
Mediterranean Sandwich 
Budget Bites: We paid approximately 250 rupees per head (including tax) which is what you would pay for a moderately sized coffee at Starbucks. The entire meal was well priced, and something I would definitely return for.

I'm hoping we become more open to drinking tea on our evenings out, rather than looking at it as a beverage we enjoy only at home. I do see that positive trend emerging, and I'm sure places like XVII may help foster that trend.We left stomachs satiated but minds pondering over the reason for the unusual name, the answer of which I later found out. Ask me nicely over a cup of tea at XVII, and I'll tell!

Contact: The XVII Tea Room, Shop 1, Darvesh Royale, Turner Road, Pali Hill, Bandra West, Mumbai.

(The author dined anonymously and paid for her own meal.)